Cocaine itself is a white powdered extract made from the coca leaf that is native to the mountains of South America. Chewed the leaf helped the indigenous tribes overcome hunger, exhaustion and gave them a nice buzz too. It was considered sacred by the Indians as a gift from the gods. The crack ghettos of today would have been beyond their wildest nightmares.
The Spanish conquerors considered the herb the work of the devil and banned its use. Once they realised the locals wouldn’t be able to work 16 hours a day mining silver without it though, they were quick to see the divine aspects of the coca leaf. The Catholic Church even began to actively cultivate it themselves and distributed the leaves amongst the workers when the paused for a break.
The Spanish brought it back to Europe but it made no real impact as the leaf travels poorly and lost much of its potency in transit. With the advent of chemistry though the active ingredient of coca was identified in the 1850’s and cocaine was born. Freud touted it as a ‘miracle’ drug that could combat depression and impotence. Freud himself took enough to kill a horse.
Cocaine reached the height of its popularity in the 1880’s and was incorporated into many cough tinctures, pain killers and mood-brighteners. Coke became a popular ingredient in many wines that were praised even by the Pope. Until 1916 you could even buy a kit called “A Welcome Present for Friends at the Front” which contained cocaine, morphine and lots of syringes and needles.
It may also be considered responsible for the meteoric rise of Coca-Cola – touting itself as offering ‘all the virtues of coca without the vices of alcohol’, around 60mg could be found in a single serving. Even today the Coca-Cola company is obliged by the trade description act to import some 8 tons of coca leaves from Colombia, though all narcotic effect is eliminated from the leaves before blending with the secret formula.
Eventually people began to notice that coke fiends ended up talking about themselves for days on end without eating or sleeping properly. Worse still when they did sleep they awoke with a murderous craving for more and would do just about anything to get it. After a number of deaths from overdoses public pressure grew and cocaine was made illegal across the USA. Once again the use of moral panic helped push the legislation:
“Most of the attacks upon the white women of the South are the direct result of a cocaine-crazed Negro brain.” (Pennsylvania State Pharmacy Board, 1914)
Cocaine came heavily into fashion in the 1970’s as demand exploded in the West and spawned a whole new cocaine mafia in South America. This process led to cities like Medellin in Colombia being torn apart by drug wars and the guerillas turned to coke cultivation to continue their insurgency.
The US also took a direct hand in cocaine smuggling under the guidance of George Bush senior, then vice-president to Ronald Reagan. To fund the US-backed insurgency against the new socialist republic of Nicaragua, it is rather firmly alleged that the rebels were funded from direct trafficking of cocaine by the CIA to American inner cities. A welcome side effect of this to the administration was that it fuelled gang warfare and drug dependency amongst the downtrodden black populations, thus undermining militant movements such as the Black Panthers.
At the same time crack cocaine had been discovered, a variant of cocaine easily made at home and incredibly addictive. This development increased the social casualties of the drug and did much to create soulless ghettos in major cities across the Western World.
The much fabled ‘war on drugs’ first launched by Nixon back in 1972 is nothing short of a joke. With coke costing less than a dollar a gram to make in Colombia and retailing for $80 on the streets in the West the profit margin is unstoppable. The amount of money to be made is so vast that there is enough spare cash to bribe every customs agent, judge, policeman and government official from Bogota to Florida. The basic law of economics is that when there is huge demand and huge profits to be made, supply will always find a way.
“It’s the money, stupid. After 33 years as a police officer in three of the country’s largest cities, that is my message to the righteous politicians who obstinately proclaim that a war on drugs will lead to a drug-free America. About $500 of heroin or cocaine in a source country will bring in as much as $100,000 on the streets of an American city.
All the cops, armies, prisons and executions in the world cannot impede a market with that kind of tax-free profit-margin. It is the illegality that permits the obscene mark-up, enriching drug-traffickers, distributors, dealers, crooked cops, lawyers, judges, politicians, bankers, businessmen…”
(Joseph McNamara, former USA chief of police)